Now that I’m about 4K words into the first draft of my WIP, it’s all slowly coming back to me: first drafts blow. A lot.
Seriously, they’re not very pretty at all. The prose is clunky, the dialogue is stilted, the pacing is off, the voice and tone are all over the place… Reading a first draft, you’d think you’re entirely incapable of producing anything that’s worth putting in front of a reader.
And yet, you keep going. You have to. Because the only way you’re going to get to that novel you’re visualizing in your head–the one with the gripping story you just can’t put down and characters you want to spend all day and night with–is to muddle through the hard part of making some sort of semblance out of that block of clay, and then spinning and spinning and spinning some more until eventually, you start to see a vase instead of, well… clay.
When I was working on my first novel, I didn’t understand this concept. Oh sure, everyone kept telling me that the best possible thing I could do was to silence the inner critic and just push through to the end, and THEN start revising. Pish posh. What did they know about my working style? I wasn’t going to keep pushing through if I saw things that needed fixing now. What if I got to the end and forgot all the things I needed to improve? All of the things I wanted to stick in there/take out/tweak? No, I was going to revise as I went along so all I would have to do once I completed my first draft was to polish it.
Two things happened with that particular approach. (1) It took me 6 years to finish that first draft and (2) it still wasn’t the bright, shiny draft I was expecting when I finally did type the very last word of the very last chapter. And in the end, I was just left exhausted, numb, and, quite frankly, totally devoid of passion for the thing. It took another 4 years before I pulled that thing out of the dusty drawers of my hard drive and started the revision process, and by then, I think it was already pretty much too late to salvage it.
Have I learned my lesson? You bet I have.
This time around, I put in the necessary work upfront to make sure I outlined the hell out of this thing–to make sure I knew exactly where I was going and I had worked out every single plot hole and could articulate everyone’s motivations for every action they took. I made sure to approach the first draft as just that: a first draft. A draft that isn’t going to be pretty or elegant or anywhere near perfect. I’m not expecting this thing to look like a vase. Not even close. If at the end of this, I have a mound of clay that only vaguely resembles something with a decent shape, I’ll be satisfied that I’ve done what I needed to do–and then I’ll get to work with getting it to look the way it’s supposed to.
At 4K words, I’m a long way from finishing this first draft. But I know that if I just keep pushing through it and don’t allow myself to pause or look back too many times, I’ll finish it a whole lot sooner than 6 years. With any luck, I’ll finish it in under a year, but I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself to meet that ambitious goal, either.
I’m just going to follow Dory’s advice in Finding Nemo. I’m going to just keep swimming. Eventually, I’ll reach the shore.